Shortly after the end of the Second World War, two trains pulled into a station in northern Italy. One train was from Germany, the other from France. As passengers from the two trains disembarked, the noisy station fell silent. Tension filled the air. Fresh wounds were reopened, lost loved ones recalled, old hatreds rekindled. Although the war had ended, they were still enemies. And with hands clenched and jaws firmly set, they were about to make war once more.
And then suddenly, unexpectedly, a Frenchman began to sing: Credo in unum Deum. For a moment time stood still. Everything hung in a balance. Then a German replied: Patrem omnipotentem. Before long both sides were singing together. It was a song they all knew well. They had heard it all their lives. It was the Credo, the Creed, sung in Latin at almost every Mass: the same Mass in France, Germany, Italy, and in every country throughout the world. A common language, a common creed, brought them together. Faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit united them. It brought them peace. Unity and peace.
At the time of Pentecost there were “devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.” And although they were not necessarily enemies, these Jews did differ greatly from each other. They came from different countries, had different customs, and spoke different languages. They undoubtedly had different opinions about religious and political matters, especially about the Roman occupation. Tense scenes between Greek and Hebrew Jews were probably a common occurrence.
What unified them, what brought them together, was the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Different countries, customs, and languages no longer kept them apart. Different opinions no longer separated them. For as the Holy Spirit descended in wind and fire, and as Greek and Hebrew Jews alike heard a common message in their native languages, those who had once been scattered and torn apart were now gathered together in a new unity. A message of the mighty acts of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—united them and brought them peace. Unity and peace.
True unity and lasting peace can only be found in God, for they are fruits of the Holy Spirit. No crowd will ever be truly unified, no locked room will ever be filled with peace, except by the Holy Spirit. All other sources of unity and peace are ultimately superficial. They cannot stand the test of time. They cannot hold firm under trial. The history of every human heart, the whole history of mankind, is marked by a search for a unity and peace apart from God. And that is why it is a history of division and violence: a history that we can see unfolding before our very eyes today: in our homes, communities, and country.
One of the earliest attempts of mankind to find unity and peace apart from God can be found in the Book of Genesis. In Genesis Chapter 11, we read this: “The whole world spoke the same language, using the same words. While the people were migrating in the east, they came upon a valley…and settled there. They said to one another…, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth’” (Genesis 11:1-4).
This is the story of the Tower of Babel. In their great pride, mankind sought to make a name for themselves. They sought to make their name greater than God’s, whose is the Name above all names. In their great pride, they sought not only to conquer Earth with a vast city, but heaven with a vast tower. But God foiled their attempt to find a unity and peace apart from Him by confusing their language. No longer able to communicate with one another, they gave up their superficial attempt at unity and peace and were scattered all over the earth.
The story of the Tower of Babel is also our story. In our great pride, we are always trying to find a unity and peace apart from God, whether in politics, fashions, ideologies, or technological and scientific advancements. In our great pride, we build our own Babels. But these attempts at unity and peace are superficial. They do not stand the test of time. They do not hold firm under trial.
Friends, the antidote to Babel is Pentecost. At Pentecost, a true unity and a lasting peace is offered through the Holy Spirit. Peoples of different countries, customs, languages, and opinions—peoples once scattered apart—are now gathered together. This is the exact reverse of Babel. And if we wish to reverse the Babels of our own day and age, if we wish to cure the poisons of division and violence that plague our own world, we need the grace of Pentecost. We need the grace of the Holy Spirit. Unless we open our hearts to a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we will never attain that unity and peace for which we long.
And so, we pray today: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.”